This semester I am having my students in my graduate seminar in conservation biology debate the following question: Are species or ecosystems the appropriate scale for conservation. While I suspect ahead of time the answer is going to be “yes” I’m curious to see what students come up with. As part of their assignment I had students choose a paper to help them think about the topic. I am creating this page as a way to help curate this literature.
To the students of Coastal & Estuarine Ecology
We will be holding class today, and I will get to the reasons why in a little bit. If however, you for whatever reason do not feel that you can go to class today. If you are sick, if you are tired, if you need to check in with the communities that you hold dear, I fully support your decision to not attend.
Last night we saw a refutation of the values that this, and many other, universities hold dear – equality, thoughtfulness, scholarship, and a belief that sound decision making will triumph over the noise and clamor of demagoguery. Unfortunately we also saw that the historical legacies of racism, sexism, and ignorance, still run deep within large swaths of our country.
It is ok to feel hurt and surprised. It is ok to question the future of our country, and our country’s role in global policies and phenomena that we study here in class. In addition to electing a man who claims that climate change is a myth perpetuated by China for economic advantage, the citizens of Florida also reelected Marco Rubio who does not think that human activities can influence the climate. It is tempting to fall back on cynicism or sarcasm in times like this. To think that if Florida keeps electing individuals that do not believe in climate change that eventually the problem will take care of itself. However if I’ve taught you anything this semester it is that the ocean is interconnected and that changes in one place ripple throughout the rest of the system. Much like the ocean our nation is interconnected and we cannot look at the bastion of blue where our university is located and say “this is someone else’s problem”.
This is not someone else’s problem, and saying that belies a level of privilege. For our poor communities, for our communities of color, for our LGTBQ communities, for our immigrant communities, for our disabled communities and for our Muslim brothers and sisters, this is not someone else’s problem. We are judged on how we treat those who have less power in our society, and my students, now is the time where we must redouble our personal efforts to reach out with kindness.
Why are we having class today? Because the administration that was just elected is demonstrably anti-science, anti-climate, and by extension anti-ocean. As students who are majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology you are facing a unique suite of challenges. To the seniors in the class, you are going to graduate within Trump’s first 100 days, to a time where the Republicans hold the house, the senate, and most likely the Supreme Court. To the juniors you are going to graduate within his first two years, and before any potentially ameliorating midterm elections. Thus, you are going to be graduating into a challenging time. A time when your science needs to be better, your arguments more convincing, and your commitment to protecting our natural environment fiercer.
We are holding class today because what I teach you is now even more important. You are going to have to up your game to operate in a culture that does not value the beliefs you hold dear. I am honored to teach you, to give you the tools and skills you will need to be a bulkhead against ignorance, and to help you find ways to intelligently speak from a position of authority.
We face real and honestly scary challenges ahead, but we are also a community. We take care of each other and we succeed or fail together. I think we will succeed, I think you will graduate and become leaders for the ocean, beacons of sanity to which people can steer their ships. So yes, we are having class, and yes we are going to learn, and yes we will be able to use this information to the betterment of our oceans and our country.
As always it is an honor.
(UPDATE 11/30/16: One of the students, Dev Harrington, did such a nice job with this assignment that I want to post it as an example. Well done Dev.)
One of the major questions facing ecologists and resource managers is understanding the amount of diversity in a particular area. This is important not only for describing macro ecological trends such as species gradients, but for allowing for the more precise application of limited conservation resources. Additionally, careful analysis of how species are distributed can even help identify some of the process underlying that pattern.
This raises the question, how do we measure the diversity within a particular area? Ecologists measure diversity using a variety of techniques but two important ones are Species Richness and Species Evenness. Species richness refers to the total number of species in a particular area, while Species Evenness refers to the distribution of those species within the total species pool. Figure 1, and 2 were tboth contain the same number of individuals (N= 12) however Fig. 1 only contains 1 species while Fig. 2 contains 10. We would say that the community represented by Figure 2 would have a greater species richness.
Now look at Fig 3 and 4. Again, both contain 12 individuals and five species but look at how those are distributed. Fig. 3 has 5 species with the distribution being Bellsprout (N=4) Beedrill (N=3) Abra (N=2) Bulbasaur (N=2) Butterfree (N=1) so 4,3,2,2,1. Figure 4 has again 12 individuals in 5 species but the distribution is as follows Eakans (N=6) Sandshrew (N=2) Nidoran (N=2) Nidoreina (N=1) and Nidoqueen (N=1) so 6,2,2,1,1. We can see from these distributions that the community represented in Figure 3 has a greater species eveneness.
When ecologists do field work one of the most common activities they do is to compile some measure of species diversity. This is often done by looking at the number of species encountered per fixed measure of effort or time. In practice this can mean running a 50m transect tape and seeing how many species are encountered, or sitting and listening for birds for a fixed period of time. When scientists accumulate these inventory data they can then do a number of statistical analyses to investigate the kinds of diversity present and if there are any patterns within that diversity. This is exactly what we are going to do today.
To investigate these ideas of community diversity and similarity we are going to need to collect data. To do that we are going to play Pokemon Go. For real. Working in pairs, I want you to time yourself for 30 min. During that time I want you and your partner to attempt to catch every pokemon you encounter. For each capture attempt record the following data: Species, Observed or Caught (i.e. did it run away before you could catch it) Combat Points, Number of poke pokeballs needed to capture the Pokemon, the kind of catch (nice/great/excellent) and the time that you caught it. I have made a data sheet available here. If you are playing along outside of class, please email me your sheets! We’d love to incorporate your data.
Additionally, I want you to record the following data. The level of the player and the approximate locality that you were sampling in. Since we want to replicate effort across all of our data please do not use incense and try to avoid pokestops that have lures and don’t use incense since those will artificially inflate your encounter rates.
Since our working hypothesis is that there will be a geographic signal in the kinds of species we encounter I want you to remain in one general area. In other words don’t walk from a grassy area down to a riverbank as that linear transect will likely cross multiple ecosystems. For this one, I would rather we have more students sample in different individual ecosystems than those crossing multiple ecosystems. You can sample wherever you want, however I would love if at least two pairs of students sampled:
- In Harlem along 125th between Lexington and Morningside, including the Apollo Theatre.
- Central Park’s lower east side (near the Central Park Zoo, apx. 59th to 65th St.).
- Within the American Museum of Natural History (suggested donation, you need not pay for this).
- Riverside Park near Grant’s Tomb (the corner of Riverside and Seminar Row).
- The Upper West Side (apx. 72nd St to 79th St. between Broadway and Columbus).
- Chinatown (between Worth and Canal St. and Bowry and Centre St).
- Little Italy (between Canal St. and Kenmore St, and Bowry and Centre St).
- Chelsea along the High Line
- Midtown. 40 and 49th St. Between Broadway and Lexington
This should give us 18 different transects to look at geographic patterns within New York City. I will also add two from the northern suburbs to see if there are differences there. Additionally if anyone else wants to join in we will make our data sets publicly available so we can compare pokecommuniites from different areas.
As always, remember to be safe. Work in paris so at least one of you is not focusing on the screen and, as I tell my son, “When you cross on the green, take your eyes off the screen.”
For those of you playing along at home we will post our data set here once it is completed
We will be using these data to explore three aspects of community ecology: species accumulation curves, species diversity indices and community similarity.
Species accumulation curves: How do we know when we’ve sampled enough? By looking at species accumulation curves ecologists get an idea as to how much of the total diversity they’ve captured. A species accumulation curve graphs the number of novel species captured per sampling event. Since, by definition, all species captured during the first sampling event are going to be novel the species richness of site 1 will be the Y value of the site one on the species accumulation curve. For each additional site added we add all newly encountered species to the total. Eventually the curve will asymptote along the true number of species present. If the curve appears to be steadily increasing at the end of your sampling then it typically means more sampling is required to estimate the total number of species. If, however the curve has passed the inflection point and appears to be flattening you have a rough estimate of how much diversity is present
For example in site 1 we capture 5 pokemon species, by definition all will be new, and our Y value for site 1 would be 5. In site two we capture 2 additional species, the Y value for site two would be 7 (e.g. 5 from site 1, plus 2 from site 2). For site 3 we capture no newly encountered species so the Y value for site 3 would remain at 7.
Now as a class let’s compile our data to create a species accumulation curve, add the stations from south to north (so the the Chinatown samples are first and the Westchester County samples are last):
- At the end of the sampling period was the curve increasing or flat? What does that mean for our sampling effort?
- Did you notice the curve being smooth or were there certain stations which created? What might cause a sudden jump in the rate of species accumulation?
Species Diversity Indices:
There are many methods that ecologists use to help quantify both richness and evenness. One of the most common ways to measure species richness is the Shannon-Weiner Index:
Where pi is the proportion of individuals in the ith species in the data set. Thus the summation of i1, i2,….iR includes all the species in the dataset. The Shannon-Weiner index also can be used to calculate an evenness
The evenness ranges from 1-0 with higher numbers being more even and lower numbers reflecting communities that are more skewed. Like all diversity indices, these measures is subject to sampling effort.
An additional measure of diversity is the Simpson’s index, which calculates the probability that two individuals drawn at random will be of the same category. It can be calculated thusly.
Where Lambda ranks from 0-1 with, confusingly, 0 being the most diverse. Therefore the index is usually reported as 1-Lambda.
These two indices are used to calculate the richness of an area, to calculate the evenness we use a formula derived by Evelyn Pielou:
Which ranges from 1-0 with higher numbers representing more even communities.
Lastly we have Jaccard’s coefficient, which is a way to calculate diversity based on presence/absence data.
Where J = Jaccards similarity index
a = number of species common to (shared by) quadrats,
b = number of species unique to the first quadrat, and
c = number of species unique to the second quadrat
Note, that this is a pairwise calculation.
- Calculate the Simpsons, Shannon-Weiner (diversity and evenness) and Pielou’s indices for each of the sites in our dataset. Which site was most diverse, which site was most even? You can do this by hand, using this website, or if you know R using the VEGAN package
- Why do we have different measures of diversity? What does it tell you when one site is more diverse by one measure while a second site is most diverse by a different?
- Are there any geographic patterns in diversity? What would this tell us about the distribution of Pokemon in NYC
- If you were approached by a tourist who only had a limited amount of time to play Pokemon Go about where to play, what neighborhood would you say was the best place to go? Why?
We can take the table of pairwise comparisons to generate a community similarity tree. Briefly this will be a graphical representation where neighborhoods that share more species in common will be connected to each other on nodes. Each clade represents a group of communities that are more like each other than they are to any other community. This method of thinking has been extensively used in phylogenetic where species that are more closely related to each other are on the same clade, while those less closely related are found further out on the tree:
If we look at the above example as a community ecologist and not a phylogeneticist (although, it is possible to be both, don’t let artificial dichotomies keep you from following interesting questions) we would say that communities A and B are more similar to each other than either of them is to community C. Similarly the distance between C and A is equal to the distance between C and B. We can use this “tree thinking” to visualize geographic patterns within our data.
In order to calculate Jacquard’s coefficient you had to create a matrix with rows being sample locations and columns being species. If you know R you can calculate a community similarity tree using that input format and the function ‘hclust’ in the R package VEGAN and you can assign significance using the function ‘simprof’ in the R package CLUSTSIG.
If you do not yet know how to use R, you can use the this website to build a tree, and use the “bootstrap” option to assign a level of significance to each node in your community tree. To use this site however you are going to have to format your data in a FASTA format.
For each site start with a “>” sign, then choose a four letter abbreviation and a number (representing the first or second sample from that neighborhood). Then press return. On the next line you will input the data which will be a string of 1’s and 0’s representing the presence or absence of every species in our data matrix. The last part is to hit return. Then on the next line press “>” again and put in the second site.
For those playing at home we will compile our data in R and FASTA and post them accordingly.
- Did sites taken from within the same neighborhood cluster together?
- Was there a geographic pattern present? If so, what was it?
- Did you see a habitat influence (e.g. sites in parks clustered together while sites in urban blocks cluttered together)?
- What communities were the most dissimilar? Why do you think these communities were most different?
While this lab obviously focus on fake biodiversity the skills and analytical methods here are broadly applicable to a variety of actual biodiveristy. I hope you had fun playing Pokemon but I also encourage you to go outside with a pair of binoculars or a mask and snorkel* and enjoy the real world diversity that is around us.
*don’t go swimming in the Hudson or East River near NYC. Just sayin’
Writing grants is one of the most critical skills you will acquire as a scientist, regardless of whether you end up in academia or not. However like all skills it must be developed through practice and with feedback. As part of Thesis Development we will be spending time helping you grow your grant writing skills so that you may successfully obtain funding to support your thesis.
There are several blog posts out there that will provide useful tips and pointers. In particular I found this and this to be of great value. Several helpful hints keep reappearing so I want to emphasize them here:
- Read the request for proposal all the way through. These documents contain useful information like when the grant is due and to whom you should send it. They also have fine print, like if research in particular areas is or is not covered. No sense wasting your time writing a grant if that funder is not going to cover your research
- Look at what other projects the funder has supported. This will give you an idea of what their funding philosophies are, what kinds of projects resonate with the funders, and if there are funding trends that may or may not hurt you. It is worth seeing if you can talk to a program officer or a past winner to get a better idea of what helps makes a successful application.
- Sell yourself and you team. Funders tend to be risk adverse and they want to make sure that if they give a team money to do a project, that the project will get done. As a new student you probably have not yet developed a track record to ensure funding confidence. You can circumvent that problem by building a good team. Make the case that ever person on your team fills a role and that together you are more than the sum of your parts.
- State your hypotheses! You want to be very clear about the quality of your science and if you do not have clearly stated hypothses, and methods that will generate data to sufficiently test those hypotheses, your grant will be dead in the water.
- Quantify your output. One of the biggest red flags for reviewers is a proposal becoming very vague about what the researchers are going to do once the experiment has been run. You can help this by being specific about where data will be archived, what conferences you will present at, and how exactly you are going to quantify your outreach and broader impacts.
To help the students focus on the art of writing a grant I asked them to formulate proposals based around deforestation of Truffula trees and the impacts on endangered Lorax and other populations in that ecosystem. Based on the criteria of the American Philosophical Society’s Lewis and Clark grants, I gave the students 40 min to prepare a short grant and then 7 min to present that idea and field questions. The three grant proposals were:
1) Loraxes derailed? An exploration of the effects of Thneedsville commuter rail development on truffula forest habitat and its endemic Lorax population
Brief Summary: In 2010, the City of Thneedville approved plans to build a commuter rail that transects surrounding Truffula tree forest (Figure 1; Thneedsville Mayor’s Office press release 2010). We seek to examine the impact of this development on Truffula forest habitat and of its endemic Lorax population
2) The effect of noise pollution of the super axe-hacker on the Song of the Swomee Swan
Brief Summary: The Swomee Swan, which lives in the Truffula forest, is known for its song. The logging of the Truffula tree is not thought to affect the Swomee Swan. We hypothesize noise pollution influences the song of the Swomee Swan, that may be related to the decreasing trend in Swomee Swan populations.
3) The effect of deforestation on Lorax reproduction during breeding season (May-July) in the Trufffula forest.
Brief Summary: The endemic Lorax population has been found to exhibit breeding site fidelity in dense truffula forests far from edge habitat (Seuss et al. 1971). Their breeding season occurs in early summer May-July (Seuss et al. 1971). Our study aims to determine the potential impacts of deforestation of truffula trees on Lorax reproduction. We hypothesize that the loss of important breeding sites and increase in noise pollution due to deforestation will negatively impact Lorax populations. We predict that loss of breeding sites will increase population fragmentation and make finding a mate more difficult, thereby leading to reduction of offspring.
Overall I found this a very enjoyable exercise to do in class. My 30 minute lecture helped frame the topic and provide useful information. The group work got students thinking about the topic as a cohort and gave them some ownership of the information, and the presentation allowed us to have some fun while practicing talking about our proposals to audiences.
The Nitrogen cycle is a beautifully complex part of our natural world that has direct impacts on the productivity of the oceans, and by extension, the amount of carbon in the Atmosphere. It has been suggested that if the N cycle were to break down the amount of global CO2 would increase by nearly 50% (Gruber 2008).
Because of the importance of the N cycle we are going to spend some time looking at it in detail in class. It is important to note that although N is the most common element in the atmosphere (N2 making up ~78% of air) it is largely biologically unavailable. Plants are literally bathing in fertilizer but it is inaccessible to them until the process of Nitrogen fixation. This process, carried out by a polyphyletic assemblage of microbial species, splits gaseous N2 into biologically available N molecules.
This N is usually available in Ammonium NH4+ or Nitrate NO3-. From these forms N can be used by a variety of phytoplankton, which in turn, are used by zooplankton and bacteria. Nitrogen tends to bounce around among these forms and is highly sought after. But remember, because the phytoplankton are photosynthetic this can only take place in the photic zone. Once the biologically available N sinks below the photic zone (in the form of Dissolved or Particulate Organic Material) it becomes sequestered from the phytoplankton. This is why deeper waters tend to be nutrient rich and why upwelling areas tend to be productive.
To complete the N cycle gaseous N2 must be returned to the atmosphere. This takes place through two microbial processes Denitrification and Anammox. In addition to completing the N cycle these process are important in reducing nutrient loads in eutrophic coastal waters (Smith et al. 2015)
To gain a better understanding of N flux we carried out a (very) active learning module in class today: We start with labeling ping pong balls as Nitrogen
First I taped two balls together to represent N2 gas. Then we N-4 students stand in a circle, with three students in the middle and one with a bag of N2 gas ping pong balls. The student with the bag splits the ping pong balls apart and throws them at the students in the circle. The students in the circle represent phytoplankton, zooplankton and bacteria and catch the balls, quickly passing them to other students in the circle. The students in the middle catch the fallen balls and tape them back together, handing them to the student with the N2 bag.
Questions for students:
1) What did the person playing the N fixing bacteria do?
2) How did we model the flow of N among phytoplankton, zooplankton and bacteria?
3) What did the balls falling to the floor represent?
4) The various forms of N differ in their residency time in the water column. NO3– gets turned over in the water column every 400 years, while NH4+ gets turned over every two weeks. Which form of these forms of N do you think is most biologically preferred? Why?
One of the predicted impacts of climate change is a increased stratification of the ocean (Wang et al. 2015). With this decreased mixing of waters…
5) What do you predict will happen to phytoplankton populations and what impacts will that have to water chemistry/nutrient availability?
6) If the upper layer of warm water grows thicker, what do you think will happen to the productivity of coastal upwelling?
One controversial approach to ameliorating climate change is ocean fertilization where large quantities of reaction limiting elements (N, P, Fe) are dumped into the open ocean to stimulate phytoplankton blooms.
7) Critique the science behind this and talk about whether you think this is a viable climate change mitigation scheme. Why or why not and use two peer-reviewed sources to help support your arguments.
8) Lastly, given that in winter large storms break down stratification and create a more well mixed ocean, while in summer warm temperatures help increase stratification, graph out how populations of phytoplankton, nutrients and the thermocline vary over one year in the high latitude northwest Atlantic (say in Halifax, NS).
9) For each season describe what is the most limiting resource.
Gruber, Nicolas. “The marine nitrogen cycle: overview and challenges.” Nitrogen in the marine environment (2008): 1-50.
Smith, Richard L., et al. “Role of Anaerobic ammonium oxidation (anammox) in nitrogen removal from a freshwater aquifer.” Environmental Science & Technology 49.20 (2015): 12169-12177.
Wang, Daiwei, et al. “Intensification and spatial homogenization of coastal upwelling under climate change.” Nature 518.7539 (2015): 390-394.
Over Compensation Schemes in Mitigating Human-Carnivore Conflicts
by Adam Pekor, MA student
Around the world, fostering the coexistence of people and large carnivores is a major challenge. From wolves in the U.S. to tigers in India, carnivores impose substantial costs on human communities through livestock depredation. As a result, they are often killed in retaliation for attacking cattle and other domestic animals. This human-carnivore conflict creates a lose-lose situation for people and wildlife: people lose critical income from carnivore attacks, and carnivore populations suffer from retaliatory killings. The decline or loss of carnivores can also have negative consequences for local ecosystems, in which carnivores play an important role, and for local economies, since carnivores are an important driver of wildlife tourism.
In East Africa, human-carnivore conflict is the primary driver of the decline of lion numbers. In light of the rapid expansion of people in the region, viable lion populations are not expected to survive outside large protected areas such as Serengeti National Park or the Selous Game Reserve beyond the next few decades. Accordingly, mitigating the conflict between people and lions is critical to both the conservation of lions outside of parks and the well-being of the people with whom they share the landscape. Since the financial burden that lions impose lies at the core of the problem, figuring out how to eliminate that burden without eliminating lions is essential.
In East and Southern Africa, the dominant approach to minimizing the financial impact of carnivores has been to compensate people for the livestock losses they suffer as a result of carnivore attacks. Although some compensation schemes have yielded positive results, many have suffered from a variety of problems that have rendered them largely ineffective. As explained below, conservation incentive payment (CIP) programs—in which people are paid directly for helping to conserve carnivores—are a promising alternative approach to mitigating the intense human-carnivore conflicts that persist in Africa.
The Problems with Compensation Schemes
Among the many problems that have plagued livestock compensation schemes in Africa, perhaps the most serious is the fact that reimbursement is often grossly inadequate. Because compensation generally requires proof that a livestock loss was caused by a carnivore, many losses (i.e., those that cannot be proved) go uncompensated. In one program in Botswana, for example, net compensation amounted to only 42% of the value of depredated livestock once uncompensated claims were considered. Thus, because such schemes do not make people whole for the losses they suffer, they are unlikely to increase local tolerance of carnivores.
Compounding this problem are the significant time lags and transaction costs associated with many compensation schemes. Because compensation claims can take many months to be paid, livestock owners are often forced to deal with unpredictable and extended financial disruptions. In addition, obtaining compensation can be a lengthy and time-consuming process, requiring a livestock owner to discover and report a kill, meet with scouts and claims officers, potentially appeal the denial of a claim, and show up at a designated time and place to receive payment. All of these steps take valuable time and energy that could be spent on other activities.
Even when compensation schemes do provide adequate levels of payment, they aren’t likely to minimize carnivore-livestock attacks. If full compensation is paid for a loss, livestock owners lose much of their incentive to minimize attacks since the financial costs of such attacks will be borne by the compensating entity (e.g., the government or an NGO). Further, this “moral hazard” perversely incentivizes livestock owners to let undesirable animals (e.g., sick or old cattle) be attacked in order to obtain compensation. In Kenya, at least one compensation scheme has been discontinued due to fraudulent claims being filed.
As a result of these problems, many compensation schemes in East and Southern Africa have failed to deliver satisfactory results for people or for carnivores.
The Advantages of Conservation Incentive Payment Programs
Conservation incentive payments (CIPs) address the costs of conservation in a fundamentally different way. Under a CIP program, communities are paid a predetermined amount specifically for helping to achieve a conservation goal. The key feature of a CIP program is that payment is contingent upon a community taking agreed-upon conservation actions and/or achieving agreed-upon results. If the agreed upon actions or results are not taken or achieved, no payment is made.
Most commonly, CIPs have been used in the payments-for-ecosystem services context (e.g., paying communities to maintain forests for carbon sequestration). However, in a handful of cases, CIPs have been used to mitigate human-carnivore conflicts. In those cases, payments have been conditioned on, for example, the utilization of enhanced livestock guarding methods (an action-based CIP scheme) or an increase in carnivore numbers (a results-based CIP scheme). In either case, the key to establishing an effective CIP program has been setting the payment level to meet or exceed the costs carnivores are expected to impose. By making carnivore conservation more attractive than carnivore eradication, these programs are able to align a community’s financial interests with conservation goals in a way that compensation schemes cannot.
In addition to the strong incentives they create, CIP programs offer a number of key advantages over compensation schemes. Most importantly, by rewarding communities for conserving wildlife, CIP programs treat local stakeholders as essential partners in conservation. By recognizing the role of local people in achieving conservation goals, CIPs encourage their participation in and commitment to conservation efforts. By contrast, under a compensation scheme, payments are divorced from conservation outcomes—that is, the actions of local people are treated as external to the conservation endeavor. As a result, local stakeholders are unlikely to exhibit the same support for conservation efforts.
Another key advantage of CIP programs is that they allow local people to profit from conservation. As noted above, the amounts payable under a CIP program are generally set to equal or exceed the community’s anticipated losses from carnivore attacks. So, as long as the community fulfills its obligations (upon which payments are conditioned), a CIP program can pay as much or more than a compensation scheme would. But, unlike in a compensation scheme, under a CIP program, people get paid for taking pro-conservation actions and/or achieving pro-conservation results, even if they suffer no livestock losses. Accordingly, under a CIP program, the more people can minimize carnivore attacks, the more they can profit off the program. That is, if they can minimize attacks, their payments stay the same but their losses go down. Under a compensation scheme, by contrast, there is no opportunity for profit; the most people can hope for is to recoup their losses from carnivore attacks. This incentivize to minimize losses is critical. With an initial goodwill payment made under a CIP program, communities can invest in resources to help limit carnivore attacks. Fewer attacks means more profit, thus creating a positive cycle for people and wildlife.
Of course, there are serious challenges associated with the use of CIPs, including determining how to set ecologically meaningful and achievable targets, how to measure a community’s performance, how to ensure that payments are equitably distributed, and how to resolve disputes under such a program, among others. And, even if these challenges can be met, CIPs should not be expected to be stand-alone, silver-bullet solutions to conservation problems that are often complex and motivated by more than just financial concerns.
However, given the potential of CIPs to deliver significant benefits for both people and wildlife, they are likely to be an important conservation tool going forward. Recognizing that local communities should not unfairly bear the costs of conserving carnivores is a critical development in mitigating human-carnivore conflicts. Implementing programs that effectively incentivize and reward community efforts is the next step.
This is another in my series of student guest blogs. This one by Grace Musser
Two weekends ago I attended and presented a poster at the First Annual Women In Science at Columbia (WISC) Graduate Research Symposium. The Symposium included speakers from many different disciplines within STEM fields and included speakers that focused on professional development and conflict resolution in the lab. These latter speakers were particularly valuable as they focused on these topics in a way that was particularly geared towards women.
The keynote speaker, Dr. Chloë Bulinski, was especially inspiring. From the start it was clear that Chloë was all around what many women in science aspire to be: a highly lauded professor at Columbia University, a pioneer in her field, and a loving mother. It was so aspiring to hear from a woman who successfully wears so many hats, and especially empowering when she emphasized one of the most important aspects of choosing a program: making sure that the place you choose will place as little stress as possible on you outside of school and research so that you can do your best work.
As a women in the STEM sciences and a daughter a mother in the STEM sciences, I have often been told of and shown the disqualifiers and difficulties plaguing women in STEM and indeed almost any field today. The admonishments from my and others’ advisors, professors and even fellow graduate students themselves often ring to the tune of “you have to choose between your children and your career,” “you have to choose between your relationship and your career,” “you have to go to x school no matter what the financial or emotional cost,” “you need to devote your time to research and publish no matter what else is going on,” “there are many times when your laptop should be your only friend.” This coupled with watching my mother’s difficulty in finding even a high school biology teaching job due to her focus on raising her children even after winning a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and a Fulbright, earning her Ph.D. from Berkeley, and conducting research internationally, provided me with a bleak outlook on the choices I will “need” to face in the future of my career.
Despite this, Chloë’s statement gave me an incredible amount of hope. Here was a renowned Columbia professor telling us that we didn’t need to strain our relationships or our pocketbooks to go to “the best” program as what matters most was how those programs could be best for us, and essentially shattering the mythic notion that the best research comes from being trapped in the lab with little to no social life—a romantic notion that is limiting to anyone, but especially to women. While I feel that there is still a huge stigma against becoming a stay-at-home mom during part of your career and focusing on anything other than research, Chloë’s statement made me hopeful: as more women become involved in STEM and show that we can be all-star scientists while still being doting wives and partners or super moms if we wish, maybe we can truly start creating a world where it is admitted that good science often is catalyzed by and can certainly include a full life, and where women are not looked down upon or punished for choosing to interface more with the world outside of academia or the lab.
I face this issue as a visual artist as well, and see many parallels between the two romantic figures; like the mad scientist mythos, the romanticized “starving artist” is expected to live in the streets, starve, neglect themselves and basically do anything to just be able to continue making their work as it is their “calling.” The reality is that, once again, even making art largely requires art supplies, a safe shelter, storage space, food, and money for all of the above—not to mention that subsequent depression, starvation, and the resulting fatigue stymies inspiration more often than not.
What I find most disturbing about both of these myths is that they encourage one to live only for their work, essentially limiting one to a very narrow aspect of life—and seem to be born of a paternalistic ideal. This is especially strange to me as both science and art are creative fields, and creativity requires new ideas, communication, and building off of the work of others. Thus both of these myths not only limit one’s life but the quality of the work itself—and in Chloë’s words, “that is no way to live.”
A few weeks back I wrote about the use of debates in active learning. We recently had our second debate, about whether, given predictions of a changing climate, it was better to focus conservation on where species are presently, or to set up protected areas where we are predicting that they will move (in effect, creating a safe haven for ecological communities that became climate refugees). One of our students Sam, acted as rapporteur and created this write up:
A Marine Conservation Ecology Debate: On Climate Change and Shifting Species’ Ranges-Future Concerns vs Present Realities
By Samuel Magaziner
For the marine world, global climate change brings rising seas, increased oceanic temperatures, and a more acidic environment1,2. Such rapid and intense alteration to otherwise homeostatic aquatic environments is bound to apply massive selection pressures upon ecosystem recruitment and success. The coral triangle of today might become the oceanic desert of tomorrow, and vice versa. For us aspiring marine conservationists this raises an interesting question: should we protect endangered species based on where they reside today or, through modeling and prediction of the effects of climate change, ought we protect the future ecosystems of these species of interest?
It was this very question which was up for debate in Professor Joshua Drew’s Marine Conservation Ecology course this past week at Columbia University. At the onset of the debate, one could see a room divided, with the practical concern of financial capability and varying belief in systems of modeling setting the backdrop.
For those in favor of prioritizing the safeguarding of current marine protected reserves (MPAs), the underlying factors came down to finance, lack of faith in models, and the need for a continued maintenance of at risk areas. Some argued that the uncertainty of modelling presents a dangerous margin of ambiguity. Simply, the argument went, if public resources are poured into a predicted area of future importance, and the models proved to be inaccurate, not only would there be large fiscal and time deficit, but a loss in community and governmental trust as well3,4. Tied into this line of thinking was a concern regarding the practicality of acquiring funding for the wholesale speculation of currently otherwise economically unproductive areas. Simply put, they argued, it would be no trivial task to acquire funding from governmental organizations closely related to fisheries management, where, historically, the economic bottom-line can supersede scientific and conservationist interest5,6. Lastly, there was a note of the importance of ongoing recruitment and species protection as a means to maintain future populations and sustainable growth. As one student noted, for less sessile organisms, such as whales and other migratory marine animals, the ongoing health and survival of these populations relies on existing areas of protection, and to remove or defund their protection might prove dire7.
Those in favor of protecting future areas of interest based their arguments on the grounds of the ability to act in a “preventive” and not in a “reactionary” course of action, modeling uncertainty as non-fatal aspect of conservation, and the financial investment as being minimal with a massive upside. The question of model competence was a continuously arising point of contention. Those in favor of future reserve protection noted that models, while imperfect, provide a basis for 1) future and more precise research and 2) give a “general direction and area” to which we ought to shift our focus. Models, while containing uncertainty, they argued, provide a means for generating interest and establishing a sense of urgency towards specific region. Taken together, this might spur conservationist funding. One student also noted that shifts in species’ range is hardly stochastic, that is, not random8. As such, models, even if mildly inaccurate, point biologists and researchers “in the right direction”. As such, investing in the protection of potential future reserves seems logically sound. Another student noted that one finding cited an increase in budgeting of only 14% were one to incorporate protection of an MPA’s future range9. For such a minimal investment, the upside of a continued ecosystem and thriving fisheries’ targets might prove overwhelming. However, they noted, in a world where conservationist funding is already tight, such an increase, however minor, might prove impossible to gather from a governmental agency.
Despite these differences, there came a point, a beautiful point, where the two sides began to agree. A compromise had been forged in the fires of heated discourse. What if, it was suggested, that conservationist efforts and funding were used to establish “corridors” or “buffers” for shifting species’ ranges? The idea went that current MPAs would gain flexible fringes, whose placement would be fluid and founded upon modeling10. These corridors would allow for predicted shifts to occur in a protected zone with minimal financial input. Moreover, current MPA coverage would not suffer, allowing continued recruitment and population recovery while also protecting future investments. While not a “silver bullet”, such a design met the concerns of both parties.
Ultimately, the room concluded upon two points and one question. Point 1: Flexible corridor-based MPAs seem as a viable solution. Point 2: Further research and mitigation of risk via education ought to remain top conservation priorities (if we halt climate change, these reactionary measures will be useless). Question: How do we feel about the role of genetic engineering in our conservation efforts in the face of shifting ranges? As to this last lingering query, well, that’s a topic for another day, and another debate.
- Doney, S. C. et al. Climate Change Impacts on Marine Ecosystems. Ann. Rev. Mar. Sci. 4, 11–37 (2012).
- Harley, C. D. G. et al. The impacts of climate change in coastal marine systems. Ecology Letters 9, 228–241 (2006).
- Halpern, B. S., Regan, H. M., Possingham, H. P. & McCarthy, M. A. Accounting for uncertainty in marine reserve design. Ecol. Lett. 9, 2–11 (2006).
- Pitchford, J. W., Codling, E. A. & Psarra, D. Uncertainty and sustainability in fisheries and the benefit of marine protected areas. Ecol. Modell. 207, 286–292 (2007).
- Jackson, J. B. et al. Historical overfishing and the recent collapse of coastal ecosystems. Science 293, 629–37 (2001).
- Jenkins, D. Managed Annihilation: An Unnatural history of the Newfoundland cod collapse. Electronic Green Journal 1–2 (2011). doi:10.1016/j.jhg.2012.05.002
- Harwood, L. A. et al. Change in the Beaufort Sea ecosystem: Diverging trends in body condition and/or production in five marine vertebrate species. Prog. Oceanogr. 136, 263–273 (2015).
- Watson, J. R., Kendall, B. E., Siegel, D. a. & Mitarai, S. Changing Seascapes, Stochastic Connectivity, and Marine Metapopulation Dynamics. Am. Nat. 180, 99–112 (2012).
- Makino, A. et al. Spatio-temporal marine conservation planning to support high-latitude coral range expansion under climate change. Divers. Distrib. 20, 859–871 (2014).
- Magris, R. A., Pressey, R. L., Weeks, R. & Ban, N. C. Integrating connectivity and climate change into marine conservation planning. Biological Conservation 170, 207–221 (2014).
(N.B. as part of my class in Marine Conservation Ecology, I am asking students to write blogs on their experiences in marine conservation)
By Rebecca Snyder
A group from Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs participated in a ten day “Environmental Leadership Delegation” to Israel and the West Bank, during which I and my fellow students had the opportunity to hear from a variety of speakers, visit wildlife reserves and learn about local sustainability projects and initiatives. One of our most memorable stops was the Coral Beach Nature Reserve of Eilat, which the Israel Nature and Parks Authority established in 1966. Following a lecture by Dr. Assaf Zvuloni, a local marine ecologist with the Nature and Parks Authority, we had the chance to snorkel along the reef and observe the beautiful array of corals and fish.
Located in the Gulf of Aqaba, Eilat is one of the Northernmost coral reefs in the world. Due to extreme environmental conditions, the reef faces a unique set of natural and anthropogenic challenges as explained by Dr. Zvuloni. The region is characterized by an arid climate, which creates high evaporation rates and, subsequently, very saline waters. 270 species of corals and an additional 2,500 species of marine flora and fauna are present in the reef (Israel Ministry of Tourism). Because the reef straddles the borders of three countries, the politics of conservation efforts can be quite complex.
Eilat’s reefs experienced significant decline in the latter half of the 20th century. This can be attributed to the discharge of raw sewage into the bay combined with the widespread farming of fish in cages, both of which produced an extraordinary excess of nutrients and, subsequently, widespread eutrophication. This decimated both corals and seagrass beds, resulting in the near complete collapse of the reef. Tourism created an additional stressor. Visitors often walked upon the reef and broke pieces of corals off to bring home as souvenirs. Recently, more concerted efforts have been made to eliminate such disturbances to conserve the ecosystem. Fish farming was discontinued in 2008 and sewage discharge was drastically reduced in the mid 90s with the construction of a new sewage treatment plant. A bridge was built out over the inshore reef, to transport divers and snorkelers to the diving area without the need to step directly on the reef. Monitoring of visitor activity has also been stepped up with warnings given over loudspeaker when visitors venture outside of designated swimming/diving areas. The reserve management team is also promoting seagrass beds as potential dive sites to take pressure from tourism off of the reef and educate divers about the importance of seagrass. Despite continuing issues and a wider decline in the world’s coral reef coverage, the prognosis in Eilat is somewhat positive. Diversity, for example, has increased. Seagrass beds have also recovered significantly.
The Red Sea may actually provide a refuge for corals from the threat of coral bleaching. Although maximum sea surface temperatures were exceeded by 2.0 °C in 2010 and 2012, no bleaching was observed in the reserve. As hypothesized by Fine, Gildor and Genin 2013, corals in Eilat may have a higher tolerance for extreme heat events that would normally cause bleaching in other locations due to their migratory history through the very warm southern straits of the Red Sea and settlement in the cooler Gulf of Aqaba, where the reef sits today. Thus corals with genotypes that can withstand such extreme conditions were likely selected for.
However, this does not necessary protect the corals from other heat-related threats. An increase of 0.5°C, for example, can double the prevalence of diseases such as the White Plague Disease (Zvuloni et al., 2015). Conversely, extreme low temperatures can also be problematic in Eilat. Due to ocean circulation, the water temperatures at Eilat don’t fall below 21° C. Nutrients that have been deposited on the seafloor can be disturbed when cold winter temperatures create a temperature inversion and thereby cause a mixing of the water column. This phenomenon led to an extreme eutrophication event in 1992, during which coral 25% of corals died off (Loya, 2004).
Southern storms, which may be exacerbated by climate change, also have the ability to damage the delicate reefs by causing rough seas. Extreme low tides are also a significant issue. Tidal activity is often predictable in much of the world, because the tides are mostly determined by the position of the moon. However, in Eilat the tides are also influenced by the monsoon in Africa, which is much more difficult to predict. To help the corals survive a particularly low tide, reserve staff drove boats along the length of the coral reefs in order to create wakes that would wash water over the exposed corals. However, it occurred to staff that this may cause the coral height to continue to grow and prevent the development of more resilient corals. Also, the species of coral that suffered the most due to low tide was also the most prevalent. Allowing some of these corals to die may allow other species to move in and boost diversity. Luckily, invasive species do not pose a significant threat since the reef is somewhat protected and the temperature and salinity make it difficult for exotic species to thrive. There have been issues with Red Sea species making it through the Suez canal and becoming established in the Mediterranean, however the opposite does not generally occur or is not problematic.
Intensive urbanization of the city of Eilat in Israel, and neighboring city of Aqaba in Jordan, present emerging challenges including light pollution, which can disrupt reproduction. As a key port for oil imports, the threat of a major spill is ever present. Other future issues include the proposed plan to build a canal from the bay of Aqaba up into the Arava valley, from which a new railway system will be constructed to connect the Southern port to the Mediterranean. Such a project would no doubt increase ship traffic and increase sedimentation of the bay.
The Eilat coral reef is unique in more ways than one. Thus, implementing effective conservation initiatives requires a firm understanding of the contextual challenges of the region. Although improvements have recently been observed, continuing disturbances and new plans for further development call into question the future status of the reef.
Fine, M., Gildor, H., & Genin, A. (2013). A coral reef refuge in the Red Sea. Global change biology, 19(12), 3640-3647.
Israel Ministry of Tourism (2016). The Coral Reef in Eilat, Israel. www.goisrael.com.
Retrieved 4 April 2016, from http://www.goisrael.com/Tourism_Eng/Articles/Attractions/Pages/The%20Coral%20Reef%20in%20Eilat.aspx
Loya, Y. (2004). The coral reefs of Eilat—past, present and future: three decades of coral community structure studies. In Coral Health and disease (pp. 1-34). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.
Zvuloni, A., Artzy-Randrup, Y., Katriel, G., Loya, Y., & Stone, L. (2015). Modeling the impact of white-plague coral disease in climate change scenarios. PLoS Comput Biol, 11(6), e1004151.
Three students from my Marine Conservation Ecology class were invited to attend the UN World Wildlife Day. I asked them to blog about it and here was the response of one student, Jamie Rae Hanson…..
UN World Wildlife Day (3/3) at the ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council) Chamber
“The future of wildlife is in our hands”
Andrew Chang, Rebecca Snyder, Nikita Iyengar, Peter Manyara, Lauren Sevigny, Sylricka Foster, Arnaud Goessens, Richard Day, and myself attended the UN World Wildlife Day panel and film awards at the ECOSOC Chamber at the UN Headquarters in New York to learn more about the pressures wildlife face, including trafficking, and to connect with global leaders in wildlife issues. This was especially valuable for those of us in the Workshop in Applied Earth Systems Management III, currently working on a consulting project for the Wildlife Conservation Society. Ten students are working on this WCS consulting project. The goal of this project is to analyze species proposals that will potentially be submitted to CoP17 in South Africa by parties of CITES. While the specific nature and details within the species proposals are somewhat confidential, I can relate to you which wildlife species we are analyzing: The African Rhinoceros, Devil Rays, African Grey Parrot, and Pangolin species – all of which have been significantly impacted by trade for their parts and products in the international market, much of this illegal.
Arnaud Goessens, a colleague of mine in the MPA-ESP program at Columbia, currently is working as a consultant at the UN. Upon hearing that an event would be held at the UN Headquarters, celebrating World Wildlife Day and addressing wildlife trafficking, coordinated our attendance.
World Wildlife Day (WWD) is the product of a Thailand-sponsored UN Resolution adopted at CoP16 of CITES, held in Bangkok, Thailand. The date, March 3rd, was formally recognized at the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly in December, 2013. March 3rd marks the day of signature of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which occurred on March 3rd, 1973.
“The world’s wildlife, whether charismatic or lesser known, is facing many challenges. The biggest threats to wildlife are habitat loss as well as overgrazing, farming and development. Poaching and trafficking in wildlife driven by transnational organized crime groups pose the most immediate threat to many iconic species. Elephants, pangolins, rhinoceros, sharks, tigers and precious tree species are among the most critically poached and trafficked species across the world.”
— John E. Scanlon, CITES Secretary-General
CITES is “regarded as one of the most successful of all international environment-related agreements (John E. Scanlon, CITES Secretary-General).” Today, 181 member nations have signed on to CITES. CITES is an international agreement between these nations, which aims to ensure that the trade in specimens of wild animals and plants, between nations, does not threaten the survival of these species. This is an important issue in today’s world, given that just the illegal trade of wild flora and fauna, not including marine or timber species, has an estimated value of $20 million dollars. This illegal trade devastates populations of many species worldwide including sharks, tigers, elephants, rhinos, and tuna, amongst many others.
WWD increases public and governmental awareness and should strengthen party commitments to CITES, which assists in reducing the harm brought on by the illegal trade, “including through developing compliance procedures, bringing new marine and timber species under CITES trade controls, making the best use of emerging technologies and strengthening cooperative implementation and enforcement efforts.”
The first WWD was in 2014. This year, 2016, was the third observance by the UN–celebrated with the kickoff of many worldwide events, including the Panel and International Elephant Film Awards, held at the ECOSOC Chamber at the UN Headquarters in New York on March 3rd. This year’s theme was ‘the future of wildlife is in our hands’ – with a sub-theme ‘the future of elephants is in our hands’.
The event was titled, Celebration of World Wildlife Day 2016 on 3 March at the UN Headquarters. It featured high level speeches, panel discussions and announcement of winners of International Elephant Film Festival.
The panel was moderated by John E. Scanlon, CITES Secretary-General and featured the following panelists:
- Heiko Thoms, Ambassador, Charge de Affaires a.i. of Germany to the UN
- Robert Dreher, Associate Director, USFWS
- Nik Sekhran, Chief of Practice & Director, Sustainable Development Cluster, Bureau of Policy and Programme Support, UNDP
- John Robinson, Executive Vice President, Conservation and Science, WCS
- Tania Paratian, Manager Intergovernmental Relations, WWF International
World Wildlife Day ‘celebrates and raises awareness of the world’s wild animals and plants’. The CITES Secretariat serves as the facilitator for global observance of WWD for wildlife. Nations, states, and organizations were encouraged to use the day to celebrate and raise awareness of local species of wildlife and plants. It should also be noted that in 2015, the UN General Assembly adopted a specific resolution (the first of its kind) on ‘tackling illicit trafficking in wildlife’. The Sustainable Development Goals, put forward at the NYC UN headquarters in September 2015 also includes specific targets to stop the illegal trade in wildlife. These international UN actions were highlighted during WWD this year.
As future policy communicators, environmental professionals, and science advocates, it remains of utmost importance that we as students engage with experts and world leaders at events such as the ECOSOC WWD celebration at the UN in New York. We were able to listen, learn, discuss, and ask questions of important voices in wildlife conservation and international UN leaders who have a stake in the issue of illegal wildlife trafficking.
“The current wildlife crisis is not a natural phenomenon – unlike a drought, a flood or a cyclone. It is the direct result of people’s actions. People are the cause of this serious threat to wildlife and people must be the solution, which also requires us to tackle human greed, ignorance and indifference. … Wildlife loss threatens our own personal well-being, the livelihoods of local communities and, in some cases, even national economies and security.”
— John E. Scanlon, CITES Secretary-General
From left to right: Jamie Hanson, Arnaud Goessens, Nikita Iyengar, Rebecca Snyder, Lauren Sevigny, at the UN Headquarters in New York, with a placard displaying the theme and social media slogans for this year’s World Wildlife Day (March 3rd) : The Future of Wildife is #InOurHands.
High-level panel event and announcement of winners of the International Elephant Film Festival, in celebration of World Wildlife Day at the ECOSOC Chamber of the UN Headquarters of New York. The panel was moderated by John E. Scanlon, CITES Secretary-General, and featured Mr. Heiko Thoms, Ambassador, Charge de Affaires a.i. of Germany to the UN, Robert Dreher, Associate Director of the USFWS, Nik Sekhran, Chief of Practice & Director, Sustainable Development Cluster, Bureau of Policy and Programme Support at the UNDP, John Robinson, Executive Vice President, Conservation and Science in the WCS, and Tania Paratian, Manager of Intergovernmental Relations at WWF International.
An example of the promotional material developed for this year’s World Wildlife Day theme: The future of wildlife is In Our Hands (2016).
Links for more information:
- Official website of World Wildlife Day: http://www.wildlifeday.org/
- Messages from world leaders on WWD, 2016: http://www.wildlifeday.org/content/messages
- CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (International UN agreement): https://www.cites.org/
- UN General Assembly Resolution adopted July 30, 2015 [A/69/L.80 and Add.1] 69/314. Tackling illicit trafficking in wildlife: http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/69/314
- EU Statement – United Nations General Assembly: Tackling illicit trafficking in wildlife: http://eu-un.europa.eu/articles/en/article_16713_en.htm
 Keynote Address – Plenary Opening Session by John E. Scanlon: CITES Secretary-General